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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon considers moving Carlos Peña from cleanup to fifth

FORT MYERS — The lineup the Rays used Monday produced a team-record seven homers in an 11-9 win over the Red Sox. But it's the lineup they'll use starting April 6 that Joe Maddon is still working on, now pondering a version that has Ben Zobrist hitting third, Evan Longoria fourth and Carlos Peña fifth.

With the top and bottom of the order set, Maddon is trying to maximize the middle and remains intrigued by having Zobrist, and his high on-base percentage, in front of his top sluggers. And after saying earlier Peña would remain fourth, Maddon is giving it further thought, planning a decision by next week.

"Zobrist hitting third gets protected by these guys, whereas otherwise if he's not there there's really no reason to pitch to him as you might because you don't want him on base for Longo and Peña," Maddon said. "Coming off the year that Zobrist had last year, he's going to get a lot more attention paid to him, so there's a bunch of little things I'm thinking about there."

Peña said he preferred to hit cleanup, but "Joe is a smart guy, and I just trust his judgment." Longoria said and Zobrist has said it doesn't matter to them.

STEP BACK FOR JOYCE: OF Matt Joyce's return to the outfield will be pushed until at least next week after he had a setback Monday during a throwing session in his recovery from a right elbow strain.

Joyce was targeted to play the field Thursday or Friday but said he "couldn't put the zip" on the ball from 90 feet. "From what they told me, it's probably not going to be as early as I hoped because we're not where we thought we'd be," Joyce said. "I'm trying to get out there as soon as I can — I've got that itch."

MORE MEDICAL: C Dioner Navarro (nerve bruise left shin) expects to be on crutches for a few more days, but the Rays remain confident he'll return before the end of the exhibition season. … OF Gabe Kapler (right hip tightness) should return Wednesday.

DRIVE FOR FIVE: Maddon reiterated that he wants to make a decision soon on the fifth spot in the rotation so RHPs Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine will "be able to just get themselves ready," though it might not come until after they pitch again at end of the week.

If both make the 12-man staff, it seems much more likely Davis will start and Sonnanstine relieve, though Maddon said it's "still the company line" that Davis could end up in the bullpen.

Sonnanstine had mixed results in a Triple-A game Monday in Port Charlotte, hitting his first two batters and allowing four runs on five hits in a 69-pitch, four-inning outing.

But his plan to feature his changeup went well, and he and assistant to the pitching coach Stan Boroski were pleased. "I've never thrown it with that much conviction in my life," Sonnanstine said. "So I feel really good about it."

Davis has had a poor spring, going 1-1, 10.24, working more than two innings only once and allowing 25 of 52 batters to reach. Maddon said he isn't concerned and spoke briefly with Davis on Monday.

"He's fine, he's healthy, he's throwing well. Maybe he's not fine-tuned," Maddon said. "I also believe the thought or the uncertainty of what's going on with him right now probably plays into this a little bit for him."

GAME DETAILS: After taking an 11-1 lead into the seventh, the Rays (13-6) hung on — barely — for an 11-9 win as RHP Winston Abreu and LHP Carlos Hernandez, candidates for the open spot in the bullpen, struggled. … Opening day starter RHP James Shields overcame a rough start and had a solid 52/3-inning, 88-pitch outing. "I liked Shields a lot," Maddon said. … Kelly Shoppach and Longoria hit two homers each, Longoria's second to left-center hitting the scoreboard where his name was in lights. Sean Rodriguez (his sixth), Zobrist and Hank Blalock also went deep.

MISCELLANY: Selection of the new Trop PA voice is close; radio personality Ronnie Lane wasn't chosen. … B.J. Upton (3-for-4, a homer), Joyce (2-for-5, homer) and Dan Wheeler (12/3 IP, 4 H, 3 Ks) all played in minor-league games in Port Charlotte. Upton was there as part of the plan to get him 70-80 spring plate appearances.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon considers moving Carlos Peña from cleanup to fifth 03/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 9:12pm]
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